WHERE DEEP SEAS MOAN.
BY E. GALLIENNE-ROBIN
GUERNSEY: FREDERICK CLARKE. Printer and Publisher.
"Where Deep Seas Moan."
The autumn wind blew in great gusts over the rocky island of Guernsey, and in the country parishes rushed up hill and down dale, leaving not a lane undisturbed by its vagaries. It rattled the leafless trees which grew at the back of Colomberie Farm, whose deep brown-thatched roof rested against the lichened red tiles of the barn adjoining. Surrounded on all sides by green fields outside its charming garden, Colomberie looked the picture of comfort; and its cheery interior laughed the wind to scorn as the curtains were drawn across the kitchen window, and the crasset was lit at the side of the wide hearth. But the wind had its revenge, for it blew across the country roads pretty young Blaisette, the daughter of Colomberie, who was going out to spend the evening; and who struggled with all her healthy vigour against the impertinent buffetting of the bleak north-wester. When she disappeared into a sheltered hollow, the wind, hushed and non-plussed for a minute, paused to meditate further mischief; then, with regathered rage, it tore across country, and boomed, with sullen roar, into a valley shut in by brackened and heather-covered hills.
Here, a granite-built house, sheltered under the rocky cliff, had an air of stern and unkempt loneliness; and there was something sinister about the watermill, whose dingy wheel, green with disuse, was close against the side of the building. Yet there was prosperity to be read in the large open barn stacked high with corn and hay, in the many cows that fed in the meadow below the hill, and in the horses that stamped impatiently in the stable.
The master of Orvilliere Farm was Dominic Le Mierre, a bachelor, a hard worker, and a more than respectable member of the parish of Saint Pierre du Bois. It seemed that he did not mind the boisterous wind this evening as he ate his supper hurriedly in the gloomy kitchen, whose windows shook at every touch of the blast.
Over the hills, and once more across country, the howling wind made its way, past the old church of Saint Pierre du Bois, past the lanes to Torteval parish, and along the high road to Pleinmont, where it had full play over a wide moorland district, dotted with low masses of gorze and groups of boulders.
Here, too, was just one little cottage to shake and grip and freeze with biting draughts. It stood in a slight hollow on the summit of a cliff overlooking Rocquaine Bay. Its mossy thatched roof overhung tiny latticed windows, whose panes were golden red from the light of the fire of dried sea-weed and furze heaped up on the hearth of stone raised above the earthen sanded floor.
Round the fire a group of girls was gathered; for the most part they were just homely, pleasant creatures, but two stood out distinctly from the rest; one, by reason of her beauty, the other, because of her original and perhaps, forbidding, personality. The beautiful one, Blaisette Simon, of Colomberie Farm, was small and plump and very fair, with cheeks of a rosebud pink and lips full and ripe for kisses. The round innocence of her blue eyes looked away all sense from the men, so it was said, and she had lovers by the dozen. Added to her beauty was the attraction of a very desirable little fortune which she had already inherited from her mother, who was dead; and by and bye, Mess' Simon would leave her the farm and all his money, for she was an only child. She was disposed to be friendly with Ellenor, again an only child, the one treasure of Jean and Marie Cartier, of Les Casquets Cottage.
People wondered what Blaisette saw in the dark scowling girl, who was reserved and offhand with people in general; and probably Blaisette herself was puzzled as to why she sought Ellenor so constantly. The girls were a distinct contrast, not only in character, but in appearance.
Ellenor was tall and angular, with a certain nobility and haughtiness of carriage inherited from her fisherman father. Her sallow skin, sombre grey eyes and heavy mouth, looked the personification of night beside the sunny beauty of Blaisette's blue eyes and yellow hair. The girl of the cottage was an excellent foil to the girl of Colomberie Farm. Did Blaisette realize, all unconsciously, the use of this to her as she went forward triumphantly in her victorious path as the belle of two parishes?
But to return to the group round the fire.
All at once, by common consent, as it appeared, the girls rose and crowded round the entrance. Ellenor lifted the latch, and, flinging the door wide open, she stood on the threshold and looked out into the inky blackness of the night. The wind howled and moaned as it entered the kitchen; and a flash of lightning tore open, for one second, the darkness of the sky. After the crash of thunder that followed, Blaisette cried in an awestruck voice,
"Surely now, Ellenor, you will not go!"
"Not go!" echoed the girl of the cottage, "not go! but this is the very weather to go in! Now, perhaps, you will all believe I fear nothing! and if there was need for it I would go bareheaded to Saint Peter Port in this deluge!" and she pointed to the sheets of rain which swept over the moorland.
Then a small, insignificant voice, coming from a woman who sat in the hearth corner, spoke irritably.
"You know, Ellenor, if your father was here, he would not let you play such tricks!"
Ellenor faced her mother with rebellion in every feature of her face.
"The girls have dared me to go to the Haunted House on this very night, and I'll go, mother, if I have to face the devil himself."
Mrs. Cartier sighed.
"Well, you must do as you please, it seems you always do!"
Without further words, Ellenor coiled tighter the thick hair that looked too heavy for her small head, stuck through it a dull gold pin, and stepped out into the small garden.
"It has stopped raining," she said sarcastically, "so who will go a little way, to see I don't cheat, but go, in reality, to the Haunted House?"
After a minute's hesitation, two or three of the girls followed her, but Blaisette, with a pretty pout, returned to the jonquiere by the hearth. Ellenor walked rapidly up the steep path to the summit of the cliff, then plunged into the darkness of the moorland. Winding in and out amongst gorze bushes, she reached at last a large patch of grass. She turned round to the girls who were huddling close to her.
"There! in two minutes I'll be to the Haunted House. Listen to the sea! We're close to the edge of the cliffs. Come, quick, let's run, who knows if I can burst open the door, if I won't see the devil. I would wish it, for my part! There'd be a chance to tell him what one thinks of him."
Her words wandered away into the night, for the girls, with cries of horror, had fled as if evil spirits pursued them.
With a mocking laugh, Ellenor hurried on, then gradually she slackened her pace. At last, she groped her way forward with outstretched hands, for it was horribly dark. Presently she touched the rough stone wall of some building and stopped and listened. Not a sound but the wild roar of the waves below the cliffs and the gradual lulling of the wind. She groped along the wall, till her hands fell a little lower, to a different surface. It was a short wooden door. She pushed against it, gently, but it did not yield. She felt it across and up and down. There was no latch and she could find no keyhole. Again she pushed, this time with all her strength. Jerking suddenly, the door opened inwards, and Ellenor, leaning against it, fell forward over the high threshold into pitch darkness. She felt a blinding blow and a sickening pain, and then she lost consciousness.
When she came to herself she was first aware of a heavily beamed cobwebbed roof, of a dim lantern beside her, of the stifling nearness of kegs and bales and boxes, and then of a very familiar figure kneeling beside her on one knee.
The man's face that peered into hers was handsome in a heavy undeveloped way. Eyes as grey as hers and as sombre scowled from underneath dark brows and a dark thatch of hair. His sullen mouth, set in a hard angry line, was the finest feature of a clean-shaven face.
"You little fool!" he half whispered, "what on earth, or in hell, has made you come meddling here, I'd like to know! I've nearly killed you!"
With his coarse pocket handkerchief he mopped up the blood that was flowing from a cut on her head.
"How did you nearly kill me?" she asked, "what harm have I done?"
"You've come sneaking in here, and in this darkness, and I hit you when you banged open the door. It seems you were falling over the doorstep. You're pretty pale, my girl, but I believe I know your face. Aren't you from Les Casquets?"
"I'm Ellenor Cartier, yes. And you—you're Monsieur Le Mierre, from Orvilliere."
He scowled and looked for a minute as if he meditated another blow—then he swore roundly in the Norman-French that he and all the islanders spoke.
"How the devil did you know me in this darkness! You're a witch, it seems, and it isn't the first time I've thought it. You are not a beauty, my girl. But come, tell me, how did you recognize me?"
"I've seen you to church, to St. Pierre du Bois, but you were all dressed up then; and I've seen you driving to the market of a Saturday morning sometimes."
He laughed and bent a little closer. Her eyes were like stars as they were lifted to his face. And she did not appear to fear him in the very least.
"Well, it's a joke, isn't it, the difference between Dominic Le Mierre of a Sunday and Dominic Le Mierre in this place, my clothes all wet with sea-water. And now, tell me, witch, why do you think I'm here, in the Haunted House?"
"I couldn't say, I'm sure."
He was silent, staring hard into the candid, fearless eyes; then impulsively he cried,
"I believe I can trust you! But, I warn you, if you let out why I'm here, I'll kill you."
"You can trust me. I'd be killed before I'd let out."
A soft shadow darkened the clearness of her eyes: her long eyelashes fell before his puzzled stare.
"But why, bah! it appears you're not afraid of me, then! Very well. I'll tell you. It is the best way out of the difficulty. But sit up against this barrel, and drink a little brandy. I've stopped the bleeding in your head with a black enough cobweb."
Ellenor tried to raise herself up, but loss of blood had made her giddy, and Dominic put his arm round her and steadied her roughly, but not unkindly. Her dark head rested a second against his blue jerseyed shoulder, and once more she lifted her eyes to his. With brusque and evidently totally unpremeditated passion he kissed her red lips.
"There! didn't I say you are a witch! I could laugh at myself for this—I, Le Mierre, of one of the oldest families of St. Pierre du Bois to be kissing a girl like you, a girl who carries fish to market, tramp, tramp, all the way in the rain or in the sun! And, moreover, I, Le Mierre, oh, so respectable and fine of a Sunday, pulling a long face in my pew, and yet, behold, here I am a smuggler, keeping guard over brandy and lace and silks! And why the devil did I kiss you, for it isn't that you are a pretty girl or enticing, eh?"
The girl trembled and turned away her head.
"Perhaps I am not pretty, but you've kissed me for all that, and better still, you've told me your secret. I think it's a mean thing to be a smuggler: but I'd die before I'd tell anyone you was a smuggler. That I promise you!"
"Good! And why are you ready to promise me so quick? I'm inclined to be afraid you'll let out, after all. I've been a fool to trust you."
He grasped her arm roughly and knitting his brows was buried in thought again. But she broke in on his silence, with blazing eyes of such beauty that he understood why he had kissed her.
"Not a bit of it, Monsieur Le Mierre! A man is not a fool to trust a girl who ... likes ... him!"
"But, that's all very well! How is it you like me? You've never spoken to me before."
"I've seen you to church; and one can like people without speaking to them."
He laughed. "Perhaps you can, but I can't! Well, the job's done now, so I suppose I'll have to trust you. Next time you see me to church, you won't believe it's me you've really seen here. But you must be off—or else the other chaps will catch you. Look here, I'm sorry I've made your head bleed! and you'll have to tell a pack of lies to explain why there's a cut under your hair. Are you afraid to tell lies, eh?"
"Not to keep you safe."
"Well, you're no coward I must say. And now, stop a bit, how much money do you expect me to give you to keep a still tongue in your head?"
"Money! not a double!"
"Bah, I can't believe it, and if ever you need it to help your father and mother, you come to me. But quick, you must go, it seems to me I hear somebody coming. There, you're over the step, run, quick, it is the men, coming up the cliff!"
When she had disappeared into the darkness, Le Mierre muttered to himself, "I'm ensorcelai, that's certain, for I've never found out what brought the girl here at all!"
It was winter, always a time for enjoyment in the days of old Guernsey, when evening after evening, people met together at the Veilles, to knit and sing and to tell stories of witchcraft and weird tales of the sea.
Colomberie Farm was glowing with warmth and light, and swarming with company on the evening of the twenty-first of December, for it was the special festival of longue veille. The spotless wooden table in the middle of the sanded floor was piled high with woollen goods of every kind, which had been knitted by men and women at former veilles. The dark blue of "jerseys" and "guernseys" were an effective background for stacks of white woollen stockings and scarlet caps.
"My good," said Mrs. Cartier, of Les Casquets Cottage, "there's never yet bin so many things for the Christmas Eve market! It's that we must have worked well! What do you say, mesdames?"
A torrent of agreement, poured out in Norman-French, swallowed up her small pipe; and Mesdames from all the countryside gathered closer round the table to inspect the good work and pack it up for transmission to market. Mesdames were comely and rosy, excellent and thrifty housewives, delighted at the thought of the gold and silver that the warm cosy garments represented.
The men of the company stood idly by, flirting and smoking and provoking giggles and pretty foolish speeches from the girls, who queened it openly on these occasions. Even the elderly men, seated on wooden stools in the deep recess of the wide chimney, turned their withered nut-cracker faces from the glow of the vraicq fire, to smile leniently on "les jeunes gens."
A few serious groups of born story-tellers and eager listeners sat on the floor where the flickering light of the crasset shadowed and then brightened the healthy beauty of the girls and the warm tan of fishermen's faces. Everybody was happy, and gaiety and laughter held the night.
But to one girl, joy meant so much that she had crept away with it to the dark staircase, spiral and stone, that rose from the wide entry to the top of the house. She sat on the third step from the floor, and from her position she commanded a full view of half the kitchen. Her eyes, deep and dark with excitement, yet almost blinding in their gaze of rapture, rested on the face of Dominic Le Mierre who sat on the jonquiere in the corner of the hearth. He was alone and appeared to be absorbed in watching the group of story-tellers under the crasset. His sombre handsome face wore an expression of extreme boredom. He had said, a few moments ago to Ellenor Cartier, the girl on the stairs, that he detested the veilles, but that he was bound to be present, as master of Orvilliere Farm. He had added, moreover, a remark that had flooded Ellenor's heart with the joy that had caused her to creep away by herself into the darkness.
It was her presence, he assured her, with a stare into her trusting eyes, that drew him to Colomberie Farm to-night, otherwise he would have been out fishing beyond Pleinmont Point. Dominic had chuckled to himself many times during the past months when he reviewed his position towards Ellenor. Since the meeting in the Haunted House, he had seen her not a few times, and he had rivetted round her a chain which linked her closely to himself. He had exerted the masterful fascination which was his to bring her completely under his power. Love is a stronger motive than even hate. He made Ellenor love him that he might be sure she would keep secret his dealings with smugglers. He felt absolutely certain that if once she cared for him she would be loyal, even to death. Therefore he fanned the flame of the liking she had openly avowed into a wide spreading blaze, which might burn up her peace and contentment, for all he cared, he said to himself, with a derisive laugh.
In spite of scorn and derision, however, he felt an interest in her which was quite foreign to his selfish and exploiting nature. With admirable perseverance he crushed every rising of this interest and stamped it under foot. But it proved strangely unconquerable, and it rose again and again, vital and conflicting, to taunt him with its indestructibility. He certainly could not have told himself why he liked to meet this girl so often on the sly and why he liked to kiss her red lips and make her eyes shine into his. But the fact that he did like the meetings and did look forward to the kisses, was quite a dominant factor in his life. Still, these things were apart: ambition, money, reputation were more to the master of Orvilliere Farm than all the girls in creation. He had not the slightest intention of marrying a peasant girl, but he did intend to have a rich well-born wife—a pretty one, if possible.
As he sat on the jonquiere, he watched keenly, in a business-like spirit, the gay gestures and pretty dimples of Blaisette Simon, who was the most eager listener of the story-telling group. He had often thought of her as a possible wife. But she was such a universal flirt, that, hitherto, he had received no special encouragement. To-night, however, he felt inclined to exert the full power of attraction which he was quite capable of appreciating and using. All women, whether they avow it or not, love to find their master and bend to him; and Dominic was of the very essence of virility. Indeed, one outspoken girl of Torteval parish said she would rather be beaten by Le Mierre than be kissed by a man all gentleness and kindness.
In a few minutes, Blaisette had left the story-tellers and joined Dominic on the jonquiere. She had not the faintest idea how it was she had risen to go to him, but his welcome was of the most delightful, his voice was tender and deep, his eye spoke eloquently of her beauty. Blaisette had never known him in such a compelling mood. Her foolish, weak little head was turned; his gross flattery was nectar to her greedy vanity. He was generally so taciturn, so cold, so aloof. And Blaisette plumed herself on being the cause of this wonderful unbending of his. By supper time they had advanced into the thick of a serious flirtation: and more than one person remarked on the absorbed couple on the jonquiere.
Of course Ellenor saw it all, at first with unconcern, then with growing alarm. The rapture died out of her face, which stiffened into tragic lines of misery and jealousy. Every blush and pretty gesture of Blaisette's called forth a new expression in the large clear eyes of the watcher on the stairs. Hitherto it had not entered into her head that Dominic might make her his wife; but, likewise, she had never yet pictured a Madame Orvilliere who would take up the master's time and prevent the stolen meetings that were so dear to her. Now, as she watched Dominic's marked attentions to Blaisette, as she saw him, more than once, lay his hand on hers, she realized the meaning of the scene in the chimney corner. He would marry the rich girl. She turned sick and giddy with jealousy. Rising, she groped her way into the garden, and, without cloak or hat, she ran down the quiet lanes and along the high road to the moorland of Pleinmont, where her little home received her with its homely air of comfort. She crept up to her attic bedroom, and when her father and mother returned home, she would give no account of her sudden disappearance from the veille.
"I've brought your cloak and hat," whined Mrs. Cartier, "you must be mad to go home without them! But, there, one never knows what you will do next."
"Leave the girl alone," broke in the father's voice, "she was tired out, she had done the best part of the packing up—it was Blaisette herself told us that. And, Monsieur Le Mierre, he said you were a hard-working girl and would make a good servant, if I'd let you go out. He laughed when he said this, did Monsieur, and it's my belief he'll marry Blaisette before long. It looks as if they meant to keep company. Well, good-night, my girl! I must be off fishing in an hour!"
Christmas Day, not in the least typical, dawned over the heights of Pleinmont in pale gold and soft grey; and the hours that followed were mild and cloudy as those of a day in Spring. The inmates of Les Casquets Cottage ate their humble Christmas dinner of a small piece of beef and a rough kind of raisin pudding; then Jean and his wife composed themselves to the unusual luxury of an afternoon sleep. Ellenor was too restless to stay at home. She wandered over the cliffs and insensibly she made, at last, for the Haunted House.
She threw herself on the grass at the back of the grim, gaunt building, and she tried to collect the miserable, wandering thoughts which were forever haunting her—thoughts of Dominic and Blaisette. All at once, a musical whistle startled her, and Le Mierre himself came up the cliff, a fish basket slung over his shoulder.
"You here, Ellenor!" he cried, sitting down beside her, "on Christmas Day and all alone! Where, then, are all your beaux?"
"You know quite well I've got none, and don't want none, Monsieur," she replied sulkily.
"Come, come, do you expect me to believe that of a pretty girl like you?"
"Pretty!" she echoed scornfully, "it's your Blaisette Simon that's as pretty as a wax doll. It isn't me, Monsieur, with my black looks!"
He laughed and put his arm round her. At his touch she trembled and a lovely colour rose in her pale face. Then, with slow, and as if involuntary, movement, her head nestled against his shoulder.
"That's right!" he said, "now you are a sensible girl. Let's be happy while we can. So you call Blaisette mine, do you! What a foolish Ellenor to be jealous of her. She's quite different from you, can't you see that she doesn't set a man's blood on fire like you do, witch?"
"That's all very well, Monsieur, but you told father to the veille that I would make a good servant and he thought perhaps you would wish to engage me for when you marry Blaisette, and I saw you with her on the jonquiere!"
"Well, sorciere, is it that I must speak only to you? And what if I do marry Blaisette?"
With a quick look into his amused eyes, she lifted her head from his shoulder and withdrew from his careless embrace. But it was only for a moment. In abandonment of grief and devotion she flung herself against his breast.
"I don't care," she sobbed, "if you marry Blaisette! I don't care if, even, I come to be your servant, but, for the sake of God, love me the best."
He smiled triumphantly over her hidden face and lightly kissed her dark hair.
"Good, there you shew sense! But, tell me, you can't be really jealous if you're willing for me to marry Blaisette? Why, you might even let out about what goes on in this Haunted House, just to vex me. And how do I know you won't do it, even yet?"
"I'd die first!" she cried, looking up proudly.
"That's settled then! And now let me tell you a secret, just to reward you. I am not even thinking of marriage with Blaisette Simon. Come, how many kisses will you give me for that piece of news?"
So heaven opened for Ellenor, and the rest of Christmas Day was spent in going over and over again every word he had said to her behind the Haunted House. She was unusually amiable at home, and her father, who was devoted to her, rejoiced in the sunshine of her ready smiles and bright ways.
This mood lasted but a few days. On New Year's Day she went to Colomberie Farm to help in the kitchen, for there was much to be done in the way of preparing refreshments for the constant string of guests who came to bring greetings and presents to the pretty Blaisette, the rich, desirable heiress.
Ellenor's duty was to take fresh relays of cake and wine into the best parlour: and towards the end of the afternoon, when it was dusk, and the lamps were not yet lit, she entered the room suddenly, intent on business. There were only two people seated by the fire. One was Blaisette, a vision of dainty prettiness in a new blue gown; the other was Dominic Le Mierre.
He held the girl's hand in his. He was bending forward to kiss her as Ellenor entered the room. From the heaven of the last few days, she fell into a hell of jealousy and bitter hatred of Blaisette. At once she turned and fled from the room. It was all very well to speak of his marriage with another girl, when she herself was in his arms. It was another thing to see him kiss the pink and white face of her rival. She could not bear it. Once more she rushed from Colomberie Farm in bitter despair and unreasoning grief.
It was Spring. Dominic Le Mierre still played a double game and there was no talk of an engagement between Blaisette and himself. He met Ellenor secretly; and was often at Colomberie Farm, where he was a welcome visitor, not only to the daughter, but to the father, who valued the advice and skill of the master of Orvilliere in all things pertaining to the management of the farm. Now, in the springtime, the countryside was stirring into new life, and masters and men alike were full of enthusiasm over the tilling of the soil and the expectation of good crops to come. Monsieur Le Mierre had sent round word to his neighbours that on a certain day in March he would hold the working festival of La Grand' Querrue, or The Grand Plough. That meant the combination of these neighbours into a band of all day workers, for the purpose of deeply trenching a certain field in preparation for the cultivation of parsnips. The large expensive plough to be used was the joint property of Le Mierre and his richer neighbours, and it was, naturally, available for each in turn. Every master brought his men and his horses and bullocks to the fray, and at seven o'clock in the morning the work and jollity began.
The field to be ploughed lay at the base of cliffs covered with the tender grass and golden gorze bushes of early Spring. Deep purple scentless violets clustered in sheltered nooks, where granite, ivy-covered boulders rose grimly along the slopes and little ravines of the cliffs. Primroses, many of them milk white, starred the grass; and wild blue hyacinths grew tall and graceful in damp patches shaded by stunted trees. But the special field in question lay bare to the sky, surrounded by low hedges, and of a rich red brown colour.
Six bullocks and sixteen horses drew the large plough, and Dominic Le Mierre was captain of the team. He looked his very best, for the work drew out the strength and will of the man. The pose of his body, the skill of his movements, the carriage of his head, marked him as the typical worker of the fields, a very king of farmers. His energy and vitality inspired the other men, and no one could believe it was time for mi-matin when ten o'clock chimed out from the church behind the cliffs. But when the spell of work was broken, the men found they were very hungry, and fell upon the bread and butter, cheese and strong coffee, with tremendous appetites. These good things were brought down in large baskets from Orvilliere; and the men scattered in little groups as they ate and drank, discussed farming, or looked out over the wide sea just beyond the field, and wondered if fishing would pay this year.
Suddenly Le Mierre gave the call for a return to work, and again the glorious ploughing went forward till noon. Then the cattle were unharnessed and allowed to feed, two men being left in charge of them. The rest of the workers climbed the hill to Orvilliere, where a substantial dinner was provided. There was cabbage soup, a palette or big boiled ham, a piece of pork, a round of beef and other things loved of Guernseymen, not forgetting copious draughts of island cider. Two o'clock saw the men once more at the ploughing, and the afternoon dragged a little till four o'clock, when the housekeeper and the maids from Orvilliere appeared, bringing each her large basket of mirelevee. This meant tea and currant cake, and probably cider. A halt was called. Once more the men grouped themselves into unconscious picturesquesness, and ate and drank to their fill. But at this al fresco meal a delightful air of familiarity and coquetry made itself felt by the presence of the rosy maidens from Orvilliere; above all by the appearance of Blaisette Simon, who brought down a special batch of cakes, made and cooked by herself. Le Mierre was at her side at once and a pretty flirtation sprang up, for the master was in an excellent temper and the girl was marvellously taken by the handsome power and devilry of the captain of the work. Never had she seen him look half so well, she said to herself. Ah, if he proposed, she would not feel inclined to refuse him! She leant over the hedge and looked out to sea, and he stood close beside her, his blue jerseyed shoulder brushing the stray gold of her hair. Lovers they seemed, even if lovers in reality they were not.
So thought Ellenor Cartier as she watched them from the little cove below the field. She stood, a solitary figure against the sky, on the rough arm of a little harbour where she waited for the return of her father from fishing. She had been watching for the red sail of his boat since three o'clock, but she had turned many times to send hungry, lingering looks at the field, above all at the prominent figure of Le Mierre. When Blaisette came, in the glory of a new gown and a pink sunbonnet, it seemed to Ellenor that life was harder than she could bear, for she was shut out from the Grand Plough. Her father had not been asked to help, he was too much beneath the rank of Le Mierre; therefore no excuse could be framed to admit her into the enchanted field. Jealousy sharpened her eyesight, she thought she could see the white hand of Blaisette slip through Dominic's arm. It was too much. She turned away and looked out to sea, blinded by tears.
The red sail of Cartier's boat fluttered in the breeze that blew from the land, and with swift grace the little craft came into harbour. Ellenor dashed the tears from her eyes and smiled down at the men in the boat as they fastened it to a hook in the breakwater and climbed up beside her. Her father was her friend, her refuge, her comfort; and something of his influence over her seemed to belong to the other man, his mate. Perrin Corbet was tall and angular, without the slightest pretention to good looks, but with a fund of good nature and humour in his grey eyes, and when he smiled back at Ellenor a shy tenderness glorified his plain face into something far beyond mere beauty of feature.
The men and Ellenor crossed the sandy cove and climbed the winding cliff path which led directly past the Grand Plough. Jean and Perrin lingered to watch the splendid action of Le Mierre, as, once more, he led the line of animals: but Ellenor walked on and never even glanced to see if Blaisette were still in the field. She did not wait for the men and kept a little ahead of them as she mounted the cliff to the moorland above. Her head was bent, her arms hung down listlessly.
Suddenly, round a bend in the path, a number of children appeared in evident high glee. They stopped when they reached the men and explained, all speaking at once, that they were going to see La Grand' Querrue. Perrin, who loved children, listened patiently to the shrill little voices and patted the innocent faces.
"But we can't go on yet!" exclaimed the eldest of the group, "we are waiting for little Marie, she stopped to tie up her shoe. Ah, there she is!"
Perrin looked up and saw that Ellenor had lifted little Marie in her arms and was bringing her to the other children. The golden haired baby nestled her head against the girl's breast: and her chubby arm was thrown round Ellenor's neck. The two made a sweet picture. The girl's sombre face was softened by contrast with the lovely little head pressed confidingly against her. The eternal wonder of mother and child is seen whenever a woman has a baby in her arms, and though Perrin could not have explained the thrill that swept over him, he knew in his heart that the sight of the two together moved him to an intense longing, an intense reverence. In his nature was none of the coarse fibre which so often marks the men whose lives are all action, danger and privation. When Ellenor kissed little Marie and put her down with a gentleness unusual to herself, Perrin's thoughts rang of what she would be as a mother. His heart throbbed suddenly as he dared to drag to light a long-hidden secret—kept hitherto from himself. He loved her. He had loved her from childhood, when he, a big clumsy boy, had taken her part, and fought her battles, at the parish school. He wanted her for his wife. He wanted her for the mother of his children.
Ah, what a picture rose before him as his thoughts painted rapidly! A little cottage on the moorland; a rose red vraic fire; Ellenor seated in a low chair, beside her a cradle; on her lap, a little baby, with wide sad eyes like hers. He saw himself enter the cottage and fling his net into a corner; he felt her kiss on his lips, and....
"Wake up, Corbet! Not a word have you spoken since we left those children—and what with you as glum as a fish and Ellenor gone in front, its precious dull for me!"
Cartier slapped his friend on the back, and Perrin exerted himself to chat and laugh. Then, all at once, Jean broke into the talk of parish gossip.
"Look here, mon gars, I'm not happy about Ellenor. She is unhappy, worse and worse each day; and so bad tempered. You know she never gets on with her mother, poor girl; but now, even at me she snaps, and, God knows, I love her well, and she loves me."
Perrin was silent.
"Does she treat you properly?" went on Cartier.
"Well, to tell you the truth, she is not very polite at times, but I would not blame her. She always looks so sad, and, as you say, worse than ever just now. Perhaps she's ensorchelai, who can say!"
"I've thought of that—perhaps I'll get her to tell me. Well, this is your way—so a bientot, Perrin, a bientot!"
Corbet made his way to his home, a cottage not far from the outskirts of the moorland at whose edge stood the Haunted House. He lived with his mother, a widow and an invalid. She hardly ever left the cottage, but she made it a palace of happiness to her son. Her lovely placid old face brooded over his every want and his every look. She lived the life of a saint and had brought up her son to fear God and none else. Perrin's religious life was a deep reality to him: he never spoke of it, but in it he moved, at home, in the conscious joy of the presence of God.
Every night, when his mother had gone to bed in her tiny attic, he knelt long beside the jonquiere in the corner of the hearth: and every night he prayed for Ellenor, naming her softly after the beloved word "mother."
But this night. Ellenor was first on his lips. Why was she unhappy? Why was she so unkind to the father she loved? Ah, if one could see right through her dark eyes into her sorrowful heart, one might have a chance of comforting her! But, as it was, one felt useless and blundering.
His head bent lower. Broken words came from his lips. A deep mysterious silence held the man in awe. It was as though One stood beside him while he prayed. And to that One he spoke of Ellenor.
At that very hour she was running quickly along the high road to Orvilliere. The moon, full and soft as pearl, rode high in the cloudless sky. The stars glinted like silver fires. But the beauty of the night was lost upon Ellenor. It seemed to her as if she would never reach her destination. At last, at last, she was at the top of the valley which sloped to the farm! As she ran down hill, she could hear the sound of music and the ring of laughter. The Grand Plough supper, the finale of the day's work and feasting, was evidently in full swing. When she reached the house she crept up to one of the windows and peered in. The hired fiddler and man with the flute and the man with the "serpent" sat on the jonquiere. The kitchen was full of people, eating and drinking round a long table covered with great pieces of meat and puddings of every description.
At the head of the table was Dominic Le Mierre, evidently the worse for drink, which, however had not made him idiotic, but which had maddened him into wild and extravagant excitement. Beside him was Blaisette Simon, dressed in a quaint muslin gown which accentuated her childlike and piquante beauty. Her father, easy-going Mess' Simon, looked on smilingly at the orgie around him, and seemed not in the least disturbed when Dominic drew his arms round Blaisette and kissed her repeatedly. She gave an affected little scream and pretended to be shocked, but Dominic laughed all the louder, and cried to all the guests to drink her health.
And all the while, Ellenor looked on with wide eyes of jealousy. In the presence of Dominic she forgot all goodness, all restraint, she only longed passionately to be in the place of Blaisette. Not in the least knowing what she did, she opened the house door and entered the kitchen. At first she was not noticed, so great was the noise and misrule. Suddenly Blaisette caught sight of her, and pointed her out to Dominic with a foolish giggle.
"I've been told she's mad after you," she whispered, "and it seems it's true since she has forced her way into here!"
Dominic was not only furious, but fearful of disclosures. He rose unsteadily to his feet, and pointed at Ellenor.
"Be off with you!" he cried, "how dare you come here, you impudante!"
The girl of Les Casquets Cottage stood as if turned to stone. She did not know what she had expected when she entered the room. Blind, mad impulse had moved her to a mad act. But this was like death to her, this harsh voice, this volley of rough words. When she did not move, Dominic reeled down the room, and taking her by the shoulders, he pushed her into the entrance hall and locked the kitchen door.
When she came to herself, she never dreamt of blaming Dominic.
"It's all her fault!" she said to herself, climbing the hill swiftly, "it's every bit her fault; and as sure's as she's alive, I'll pay her out!"
The sudden appearance of Ellenor at the Grand Plough supper was talked of all over the countryside; and the story of it soon penetrated to Les Casquets Cottage. Mrs. Cartier made her usual futile remark that "one never knew what the girl would do next," and whined and canted about the matter for days together. Jean was very angry at Ellenor's want of proper pride in thrusting herself where she was not considered good enough to enter; but neither parent guessed at the real state of affairs.
Le Mierre managed to waylay Ellenor some days after La Grand' Querrue, and a few careless kisses and slighting remarks of Blaisette bound the girl of the cottage closer to him than ever. As for Dominic, he told himself that he could not and would not give up the stolen meetings with Ellenor. They were far too exciting, for the girl was one to set a man on fire, with her passionate demonstrations of love, and her wild, untamed nature. Thus the Spring passed, and the long days of Summer gladdened workers and idlers alike.
It was June, and Perrin Corbet was busy day and night at the fishing. He and Cartier put away a good bit of money, but they never entrusted it to safer keeping than certain old purses locked up in their cottage homes. Each man toiled, not to save merely, but to keep a sum of money put by for those he cared for. If Perrin had hopes of nearer relationship to Cartier, he was doomed to disappointment. He had begun to court Ellenor persistently, and she, as persistently, shunned him.
One evening, as he was returning from Rocquaine Bay after a long day's fishing, he met Ellenor in a shady lane. She had been milking and carried on her arm the large shining can which it was her pride to keep like silver.
"What's the matter, Ellenor?" he said at once, "you look as white as death! Is it you are ill?"
She laughed mockingly.
"Have you ever known me to be ill! Surely this warm weather is enough to make one look white! And far from being ill, I am much amused at what I have seen just now. Will I tell you about it?"
"My good, yes, tell me, I am only too pleased if you talk to me. Shall we go up to Les Casquets together? I was going there to see your father."
As they walked side by side she began to speak rapidly.
"Well, this amusing thing I have seen! Listen! I was at the top of the valley that leads to Orvilliere Farm this morning when, all at once, I saw a cart coming along. In it was a big chest made of oak and carved all over; and besides there was a box covered with leather and all over brass nails. Of course one knew at once what that meant! In the chest and in the box there was the linen for the house of some woman who was soon to be married, and it was being taken to the house of the bridegroom. Sure enough, it seems I was right, for tied to the cart behind was the cow the father of the bride would give! Then, close to the cart, on the side, there was a girl I knew. She was the nearest woman relation of Blaisette Simon, and she was carrying a looking glass. I knew what all those things meant—a marriage soon to take place. So I looked again, and I saw that the man who was leading the cart was Dominic Le Mierre, the master of Orvilliere, and he turned down the hill that leads to the farm. He didn't see me—him—he was chatting and laughing with the girl cousin of Blaisette, and telling her not to let the looking glass fall, or that would be bad luck. Now, Perrin Corbet, tell me, what do you think all that means?"
She breathed quickly and turned her face away from him.
"Means!" echoed the fisherman, "of course it means only one thing, that there will soon be a wedding, that the bride will be Blaisette Simon and the bridegroom will be Dominic Le Mierre. But why do you ask me? You said you knew yourself what it meant when you saw the chest in the cart!"
"Bah, don't be so stupid and tease me like that! There might be some mistake. And what do I care if she does marry him?"
"I wonder you haven't heard it talked of before, Ellenor, for all Torteval has said long ago they would make a match."
"Well, let people chat as much as they like! He don't care for her, that I know. It's only her money he's after. She is a silly little fool, all pink and white and yellow hair."
"Perhaps! But all we men can see that she is a very pretty girl. And how do you know he don't care for her, eh?"
"How dare you to question me like this! Never mind how I know, but I do."
"Well, my girl, I can tell you all about it. It would seem that Le Mierre has been making a fool of you. All Torteval knows it. And there's times and times I've seen you together; and him making love to you."
"You're a sneak and a liar! So you've spied on us, Perrin Corbet, have you?"
The fisherman was absolutely unmoved by her rudeness. His love was beyond and above any feeling of even proper pride.
"I've not spied on you at all, but it wasn't my fault if you didn't see me; and you never gave me a chance of telling you all this before. He's sure and certain to marry Blaisette. It's as good as if she was his wife now you've seen the cart taking the linen to Orvilliere. Don't be vexed with me. It's for your good I speak. You know how I love you, Ellenor."
"Bah, who cares for your love! I was a fool to tell you the amusing thing I've seen. And I tell you, once more, he don't love Blaisette Simon."
"Well, have it your own way! I've nothing more to say about the marriage. But I've a mind to go to warn Blaisette about her husband to be."
Ellenor turned on Perrin a look of wild terror and anger.
"If I could, I'd kill you, because I hate you so! You would go to tell Blaisette that you've seen me and him together!"
"I would do no such thing. But I would wish to warn her that Dominic is mixed up with smugglers."
A dead silence was at last broken by Ellenor's husky words.
"How do you know he's mixed up with smugglers?"
"Listen to my tale this time," he said, "but it isn't at all amusing. One night I was off the point of the cliffs below the Haunted House. I was in my boat, fishing for bream. It was full moon, but me and my boat were in shadow. None could see us. By and bye—I saw a long, narrow boat shoot out from a cave not far off from me. In it were three or four black looking foreigners. They pushed their boat close under the cliffs and waited, full an hour. Then, by and bye, down came Le Mierre and another man with bundles of silk, or what looked like it ... and the fellow in the boat got up and caught hold of the bundles and went off with them like the very devil. Le Mierre and his man were up the cliff again before I could whistle to them that I was by. I've meant to tell Le Mierre some day; and it seems to me now's the time for him and his girl to know."
"And what good would that be, I'd like to be told! He'd only do his best to pay you out for being a sneak."
"I've thought, too, of letting the constables of the parish know of it," pursued Corbet quietly.
"And a fine row there'd be! Do you think you, a poor fisherman, would be believed when you went to tell tales of him, a rich farmer! Bah, you must be mad, Perrin Corbet."
Now the fisherman had all the island reverence for his betters. He really spoke to ease his mind; but he was very far from longing to deliver up Dominic to justice, in spite of the pricking of his conscience, which whispered to him that he was like an accomplice in a crime if he did not tell of the smuggling business. He was silent now, and Ellenor began to speak again.
"If you take my advice you won't meddle with Monsieur Le Mierre at all. Are you forgetting that his family has always been well known for its wizards and witches? Bah, Perrin, have you so soon forgotten how the grandfather of Monsieur used to throw black powder on people if they offended him, and then they would be taken ill all of a sudden? And over and over again, at the Sabbat des Sorciers of a Friday night on Catioroc Hill, the very mother of Dominic has been seen, dancing with all the rest!"
Perrin stopped short and whistled.
"Well, you won't hardly believe me, but I had quite forgotten! Of course now I remember all you say. No, no, I can't meddle with him. His whole family has always been known to have dealings with the devil. Well, here we are to Les Casquets, let's go in and perhaps your mother will give me a cup of tea."
"Go in by yourself, if you like! As for me, I'm off, a bientot, Perrin!"
Ellenor walked slowly in the direction which would lead her furthest away from the cottage. She wound in and out of low, prickly gorze bushes covering the moorland till she reached Pleinmont Point, then she ran down a gently sloping grass valley till she got to the sea. She had an appointment with Dominic at Pezerie, the bottom of the valley which skirted the rocky coast. It was blowing hard, and yet a dense mist hung over the sea. Once, like a ghost, a boat with a velvety brown sail, flitted across the Pezerie outlook. A bell tolled from Hanois Lighthouse.
Ellenor shivered, and cruel forebodings took hold of her. Then, all at once, it was brilliant sunshine in her heart, for Dominic came running down the valley and clasped her in his arms. With sobs and passionate words of reproach and love, she asked him if it was true he was going to marry Blaisette.
"Little silly child!" he said, with a laugh, "of course it is not true! There was no thought of my marriage when I led the cart. I was just helping the cousin of Blaisette; one does not always exactly keep to old customs."
Then she told him of Perrin and the smuggling; and he called her a clever garce for stopping Corbet's mouth. He was in the gayest and most fascinating of moods, and Ellenor was in a heaven of joy, for his caresses and words had never before been so tender. It was late before they parted. He could not see her again for a few days, he explained, as he had special business on hand.
The next day, when Ellenor was knitting outside Les Casquets, a messenger arrived from Orvilliere. He brought an invitation to Jean Cartier and to his wife and daughter, to attend the wedding of Monsieur Dominic Le Mierre and Mademoiselle Blaisette Simon.
She stood up straight and tall to receive the blow. She did not flinch. Only her face was grey as ashes; and her large eyes looked like those of a hunted animal, as she accepted the invitation for her parents and herself.
The wedding was fixed for that day week, and all the parish, indeed the two parishes of Saint Pierre du Bois and Torteval, were wild with excitement. Hundreds of people were invited; and for days before the ceremony the water lanes and marshes were visited by bands of young people eager to gather the gllajeurs, or wild marsh iris, to strew before the bride and bridegroom when they would leave the church.
It was a lovely morning when Dominic stood before the altar in the old church of Saint Pierre du Bois and vowed to love and cherish fair Blaisette, a picture of sweet gentleness, and pretty coquetry in her fair white bridal gown. But the sun was black and the sky was lead to Ellenor, as she watched the bride and bridegroom walk down the aisle together, man and wife, arm in arm. She could have touched the bride, so close she stood to her as she passed; and Dominic's eyes fell upon her with a stony stare. For a maddening moment, Ellenor thought she would die. Then, her proud spirit re-asserted itself. She would go through the day carrying aloft her banner of self-respect. She would march to battle as if to the sound of music. As she made this resolution, a murmur of almost horror reached her from outside the church. She hastened to the porch in time to see that Blaisette was crying.
"What is it?" she whispered to Perrin Corbet, who, all unnoticed, had kept close to her during the ceremony.
"It's that she has remembered suddenly she came to the church a different way from what she does on Sundays. And of course we know it's dreadful bad luck, poor girl! It's certain there'll be something happen before the year is out."
A gleam of joy lit up Ellenor's pale face.
"Come along, Perrin, let's be off to Orvilliere—there's not too much time before dinner."
Corbet looked at her doubtfully.
"But, aren't you going to put on a different gown?"
"And, pray, impudant, why, I'd like to know! This one is silk, and what more do you want?"
"It's the colour I don't like! Scarlet for a day like this! You ought to be in white."
But Ellenor only laughed at him. Not she give up her scarlet gown made of silk that Dominic had given her one night in the Haunted House!
Orvilliere Farm was gay, outside and in, with garlands and crowns of flowers; and in the kitchen and in the field beside the house, tables were laid for the customary dinner of roast beef and mutton, plum pudding and gache a corinthe. Cider flowed liberally; and, after dinner, the guests were in fitting mood for the games that followed till tea-time. Then all the evening long, dancing waxed fast and furious, with intervals for songs. Dominic delighted the company by giving Ellenor a sounding kiss when she chose him for her partner in—
"Saluez, messieurs et dames, Ah! mon beau laurier!"
and all the company then shouted in chorus—
"Entr'embrassez-vous par le jeu d'amourette, Entr'embrassez-vous par le jeu d'amour."
But it is certain Ellenor would not have dared to choose the bridegroom had he not been half drunk. Perrin Corbet, a sober man himself, looked on in disgust; and glanced at Blaisette to see how she took it. But she was giggling as usual, and drinking mulled wine from one of the new wedding cups.
At five in the morning the wedding party broke up; and all the guests said that Ellenor Cartier was a shameless girl. Perrin heard and clenched his fist.
"Quick! get up, Ellenor, you must have overslept yourself!" cried Jean Cartier one morning in August, as he woke his daughter with a loud knocking on the partition between the attic bedrooms of the cottage.
"It's all right, father," the girl called in reply, "I've been up there's a long time, but I am putting the roses round my hat. The breakfast will be ready as soon as you're down."
Jean dressed in particularly old clothes, and Mrs. Cartier chose out the shabbiest skirt she possessed, for they were preparing for a day of hard work on the beach. But, to their surprise, when they came down to breakfast, Ellenor wore a pretty gown of dark red stuff. She explained, carelessly, that indeed she would not make herself a fright before all the countryside; and if the gown was spoilt, well, it couldn't be helped. Her parents said nothing, for Ellenor's temper was more uncertain than ever, and they dreaded an outbreak; but Mrs. Cartier had her suspicions.
After breakfast the three started for Rocquaine Bay, where a lively scene was being played, for it was the time of vraicing or sea-weed harvest. Lines of carts were ranged above high-water mark, and the patient horses were decked with flowers. The beach and sands swarmed with people all smiling and gay, and for the most part wearing nosegays. Rich and poor from two parishes chatted, laughed and worked hard with sickles at cutting the vraic scie from the low rocks. Very soon, the beach was dotted with heaps of sea-weed, each marked by a pebble, bearing the owner's name in chalk. The more adventurous waded across the cols or causeways to rocks at some distance from the shore and found rich stores of golden weed. Amongst these adventurous spirits was Ellenor. She had persuaded one of the farmers to take her on his horse to a high group of rocks, hidden from the beach by Rocquaine Tower, and here she worked undisturbed, and in full possession of a wonderful growth of vraic.
She took off her hat, and her hair curled about her forehead in damp little rings, for the sun was scorching. A dusky red glowed in her tan cheeks; her eyes, shining with excitement and the joy of work, followed the skilled movements of the sickle she swung to and fro, and she was entirely absorbed in gathering in the precious vraic. But, all at once, she paused. She heard, distinctly, the splash of horse's feet. Someone was coming to interrupt her and share her harvest. She would not have it! She had first thought of these rocks! She would fight for her rights!
The splashing came nearer. She did not turn round. A scrambling sound followed; then she heard heavy steps mount the rocks.
"Ellenor," said a well-known voice, "what luck to find you quite alone here!"
It was Dominic Le Mierre, and it was the first time the two had met alone since his wedding day. He took her hand and smiled into her eyes, which filled with tears.
"You cheated me," she said, "you told me you were not going to marry her."
He laughed and stooped to kiss her.
"You silly girl! If I had told you I'd never have got so many kisses from you, and you wouldn't have liked that, eh! What difference does this marriage make to you and me, I'd like to know! Besides, don't pretend to be so good all of a sudden. Didn't you choose me at my wedding feast, and didn't I kiss you before everybody? Not that I remember it too well, for I had had a little drop, but I've been told of it since."
"Ah, I was mad that night—mad with jealousy!"
"Go on being mad!" he cried, "how well you look in that red gown, though it's a common rag besides the fine clothes of my milk-and-water wife. Bah, what a fool she is! Don't you know I married her for money and for her good family? But she is like a silly baby. Her pretty face doesn't touch me. She might stare at me for ever with her eyes of blue china, and my blood would lie quiet like a stagnant pond. As for you, witch, your eyes burn into me and set me in a blaze. And I vow you'll have to meet me pretty often. Where shall we agree to see each other to-morrow night?"
"Nowhere," she replied sulkily.
"I like that! What new trick are you up to now, pretending you don't want to meet me?"
"I do want to meet you!" she cried passionately, "but I've got a little bit of pride left, and I'm decided not to meet a married man on the sly!"
He scowled and crushed her hands in his.
"You know your character is gone as it is. You're talked of all over the parishes, people say you're mad after me—so, I'd just like to know what difference not meeting me will make."
"I'm decided not to do it."
"Very well, my fine lady, we'll see about that. Ah, you little fool, you've wasted the time and now I must go back, my horse is already up to his knees in water. And how will you get back, I'd like to know!"
"Perrin Corbet is coming to fetch me. Look, here he is."
A quarter of an hour later, all the vraicqueurs were gathered together on the beach to eat their meal in common. Every woman had brought gache, biscuits and special vraicquing cakes: while the rich farmers had provided a plentiful supply of cider which had been brought down in little barrels swung to the carts. It was a merry time, and Blaisette Le Mierre was looked upon as the queen of the feast. Very few spoke to Ellenor, for she was shunned as a marked character. Only Perrin paid her every attention, and saw that she had everything of the best. As for Dominic, it appeared as if he did not even see her: and people said he had been persecuted and waylaid by Miss Ellenor, for it was evident he did not care a straw for such a girl.
After the meal, some of the men carted away the vraic to the farms over the cliffs, where it would be used to enrich the land. Others, with the help of the women, spread out the sea-weed, which was stored in heaps on the beach to dry. This, later on, would be used for fuel, and would give out its peculiar pungent smell, so dear and memory-stirring to all Channel Islanders.
So the vraicquing festival ended; and that night Ellenor sobbed herself to sleep, a passionate weary creature, too proud to bend to God and turn to goodness.
It was November; and one evening as Perrin Corbet was crossing a hill on his return home from fishing, he thought he heard a low moaning. He stopped and listened. Was it the cry of a sea-gull flying into shelter from the storm which was approaching? Was it, perhaps, the spirit of some drowned fisherman haunting his house? No—it was the voice of a living woman in distress! He waited, and gradually traced the sound to a huge cromlech on the hill. He stopped at the entrance.
"It is I, Perrin Corbet!" he said quietly, "is anyone in trouble?"
"Yes, yes!" answered an eager voice, "come in and speak to me—Ellenor."
"My dear girl," went on the fisherman's even voice, "what are you doing here?"
"I've been hiding, there's an hour, from Dominic Le Mierre. Ah, it is no use, I must tell you all, for you never scold me and look black at me, like all the rest do. I said I wouldn't meet him now he's married, but the more I keep out of his way, the more it seems he finds me out."
"Then you don't care for him no more, like all Torteval said you did?"
"Care for him! Care! I love him with all my soul!"
"And him such a black character, and a smuggler! There's times and times I've seen him again to the cliffs with queer fellows; and others have seen him, too. But nobody likes to give him up to the constables, except me, and I've settled it that I'll tell what he is after. He deserves it, the way he treats you. And it will be a fine way of disgracing him. I'll risk that he'll bewitch me."
A dead silence followed his words. Then Ellenor's hand stole into his, and Ellenor's voice said softly,
"Perrin, is it you love me yet?"
He lifted her hand and kissed it.
"I love you better than even my mother. I love you next best to God."
"And yet, Perrin, I am not a good girl."
"Don't dare to say that to me! You are good when you are not thinking of that scoundrel. It's him that has made people speak about you like they do! But, listen, Ellenor, if you was the blackest of the black, I'd love you, because it's you, and because I was made to love you, once and for ever."
She burst into a passion of tears.
"That's how I love him! He's the blackest of the black—a liar, a smuggler, a cheat to his wife and to me, too fond of his glass, cruel to the poor, mad for money, pretending to be pious of a Sunday; and yet, yet, I love him, because it's him, and because I was made to love him, once and for ever."
"My God! how you hurt me!" cried poor Perrin, clasping her hand closer in his.
She cried quietly for a little while, and Corbet did not try to check her tears. His tender love made him wise and gentle as his own mother. At last she was quite still, and presently she said,
"Perrin, if you love me, I'll be your wife some day."
"Do you really mean it? It seems too good to be true. I can't take it in, as you see. And yet if it does come to pass, there'll be no man prouder than me in the whole of Guernsey!"
"But, if I am to be your wife, there'll be a condition."
"Condition! You can make a hundred, dear Ellenor."
"I don't know if you'll agree to this one, however!"
"Of course I will! I promise you beforehand."
"Promise! Promise! Quickly!"
He laughed gaily, wild with joy at her sweet mood and at the fair prospect the future held for him.
"I promise I'll agree gladly to your condition, whatever it is."
"Then listen to it. You have promised you'll never give up Monsieur Le Mierre to the constables."
Perrin was silent for a long time; then he said, in a voice hoarse with emotion,
"It seems I am a very stupid chap, and it takes me a little while to see what a woman is driving at. But though you are too clever for me, Ellenor, and caught me in a fine trap, I can make out the reason, the only reason, why you will be my wife. It is to save Le Mierre from disgrace."
"Yes," she replied, "it is; and there is yet one more reason. I can't live to Les Casquets any longer. I'm too unhappy. Mother is always telling me what people say about me; no other tune do I hear all day long."
"Well, it's quite plain you don't care a double for me; but, still, I can take care of you, give you a home and thus stop the wagging of all the tongues in the parish. But, Ellenor, there is one thing I must speak about. I am willing to know you don't love me; willing to know you've given your heart to another man, and him a scoundrel. But, I couldn't stand it if you had meetings with him when you will be my wife, the daughter of my dear old mother. I'd kill you, I believe. God forgive me, if such a thing happened."
"You needn't be afraid," she said in a dreary, colourless voice, "since now I am always getting out of his way. There is left a little pride in me yet. I can't bring such disgrace on my father. But every day I cry because I can't see him."
"Well, I am satisfied! After all we know what each other means. And now, when will it be, this wedding of ours?"
He tried to speak gaily, poor Perrin, but it was sad work. He succeeded at last in persuading her to agree to be married on Christmas Day: and then, fearful that she would change her mind, he said he would take her home at once, for it was getting late.
As they descended the hill and crossed the bay, Perrin pointed out the gleaming of a light on Lihou, an islet within a stone's throw of Guernsey.
"It seems that Le Mierre is living there just now to work at the iodine. His wife is with him. She is very delicate, it would appear, and not very happy, poor pretty Blaisette!"
"Does he beat her?"
"So people say. I can believe anything bad of Le Mierre."
"It is not surprising. How bad I must be to love such a man! Perrin, why didn't God let me—make me, love you instead?"
Was this sad gentle voice in reality Ellenor's? Was this nestling hand hers? Did it really creep through his arm?
"My girl, we must not dictate to God about what He does! I confess I don't understand half He lets happen to us. But I couldn't question it."
"Poor Perrin!" she went on softly, "to care for me, of all the girls in the two parishes."
"I wouldn't change you for the Queen on her throne?"
He caught her to his breast and folded her to his heart. In the heaven of his faithful love she felt, at least, safe from her own lurid passion, and at rest from the biting remarks of her little world.
It was the night of Christmas Eve and the snow fell thick and fast. This weather, so unusual in the Channel Isles, had delayed Perrin Corbet in the little town of Saint Pierre Port, and it was past ten o'clock when he reached home. His mother had gone to bed, but not before she had prepared her son's supper and left the little kitchen the picture of comfort. After his meal, Perrin turned the lamp low, lit his pipe, and sat down in his mother's arm-chair before the vraicq fire. The wind moaned in the huge chimney, with a cradling sound, but Perrin was not in the least inclined to sleep. To-morrow would be his wedding day. He could not realize it; he could not believe he would so soon reach the height of joy. He tried to picture to-morrow. Ellenor, in the white gown she had described to him, would stand before the altar, and he, her devoted lover, would take her hand and declare, before God and before the world, that she was to be his wife.
Then, the rest of the day would be spent in quiet joy at Les Casquets Cottage, with his mother as the only guest of the Cartiers. He pictured the moment when he would say, taking out his watch, "Now, mother, now, Ellenor, it is time for us to go home."
He would light the lantern, and with those two women, so dear, so precious, he would return to this very cottage, henceforth to be a palace to him, since Ellenor, his queen, would be his wife. He would deal so tenderly with her, for she had suffered much, his poor Ellenor! He would never reproach her if she seemed to fret after Dominic. She could not uproot, all at once, such a deep love. He would lead her gently back to the ways of religion which she had deserted. He would remind her, one quiet evening, that she was of those who were admitted to The Holy Supper of the Lord, for had she not been confirmed at the same time as he had? And, please God, she would listen to him. Perhaps, in days to come, she would learn to love him a little. Perhaps that joy would be his when baby hands clasped his rough brown fingers and a rosy baby mouth kissed his adoring lips!
His pipe was out; and his head was bent as he dreamed of the morrow, his wedding day. For a moment, the wind had ceased its moaning and a deep stillness enfolded the cottage.
Suddenly, a sharp tap rang through the kitchen. Perrin started, his dreams scattered. He listened, breathless, his island blood frozen, his Celtic temperament at once calling up visions of the supernatural.
Again the tap sounded on the window; and this time, a familiar voice re-assured Perrin.
"Let me in, Corbet, quick, I bring bad news."
In a moment Cartier stood in the kitchen and cried breathlessly,
"Have you seen Ellenor? She hasn't been home since early this afternoon!"
The ruddy colour left Perrin's tanned face.
"My God, no, I haven't seen her! What, then, can have happened?"
Then, with graphic, trembling words, Jean told how Ellenor had gone to Saint Pierre to buy some finery for her wedding bonnet; how, hour after hour, when the snow was thick and the wind howled over the moorland, she had been anxiously looked for; how, at last, in despair, he had said to his wife that he would go to Perrin, for they must be off to look for Ellenor all the way to Saint Pierre Port.
At once, Corbet went upstairs, and, waking his mother, told her the story of his girl's mysterious disappearance.
"We'll go round to Les Casquets and bring Mrs. Cartier over here, mother. She's a poor creature, and she can't be left alone. Who can tell when Cartier and I will be back!"
It was two o'clock before the men started to walk to Saint Pierre Port. It was brilliant moonlight at four o'clock, and the gusts of snow had died away with the wind; but the men searched, in vain, for any trace of Ellenor. As soon as it was dawn, the two parishes were roused, and those who were kind helped to look for the missing girl. The rest shrugged their shoulders and said that Christmas Day was not meant to be wasted in such a search, for such a queer wild girl as Ellenor Cartier. At last a child found in a hedge a paper bag: it contained a spray of artificial flowers, a few drenched roses. The child's mother guessed this must be the finery Ellenor had gone to buy, for everyone knew the pitiful story by now. But the hedge was ominously near Rocquaine Bay. What did this mean?
After three days of minute search, the band of men gave up in despair; and Jean and Perrin went back to the routine of daily work in dogged and patient despair. The fisherman wondered if Le Mierre had heard the news, shut up in Lihou Island, where his wife lay very ill of small-pox, which was raging in different parts of Guernsey. Finally Jean unburdened his mind to his friend and talked with him of Ellenor's infatuation for Dominic. Would it be that she had drowned herself to be rid of the torture of her life?
Perrin was haunted perpetually by this idea: it was with him by day and by night. He went about like a man who was half asleep, and people began to complain that he did not even nod to his acquaintances when he met them. So the Christmas season passed and it was the last day of the Old Year. The cold and the snow disappeared, and the weather was mild and calm as Perrin rowed homewards about four o'clock in the afternoon. He had been to pull up his lobster pots which had been put down not far from Lihou island. Buried in thought, he did not notice how close he was rowing to the reef of rocks off the north of the island, till a loud cry startled him and he saw that someone was signalling to him from a jutting rock close to his boat. It was a woman. It was Ellenor Cartier.
Mad with joy, Perrin brought his boat into a tiny creek, moored it and scrambled up the rocks to the girl's side.
"Don't come near me!" she cried, "for the sake of your mother! I am minding Blaisette. She is ill, dreadfully, dreadfully ill. If she gets well, the doctor says it will be a miracle. But even he is afraid to come much. Since Christmas Eve he hasn't been here. It was then I came, just after his visit."
She had gradually edged away from Perrin, and now placed herself behind a boulder. Over its edge her pale face looked sadly at her lover.
"Do you know," she went on, "perhaps you won't believe me, but till I saw you just now in your boat, I didn't even feel sorry I left you on Christmas Eve. Are you very angry with me?"
"I couldn't be angry with you, my darling! Even now, it seems I can't believe you're alive. We found your white roses, all wet and spoilt, in a hedge close to Rocquaine Bay; and, ah, how we feared, your father and me ... But, Ellenor, tell me, how is it you came here? And how was it you were on the rocks just when my boat passed."
"I was on the rocks to try to see if I could let one of you men know we want food, and to tell the doctor he must come again. I've given her all the medicine he left. It would be no use for me to go over to Rocquaine at low tide, because not a soul would help me; all would run away from me."
"Set your heart at rest, my Ellenor. I'll go for all you want. But, quick, tell me, how is it you came here?"
She buried her face in her hands, and broke into bitter weeping. And Perrin could not clasp her in his arms. Presently she spoke, in a low voice, full of anguish.
"It was like this. On Christmas Eve, when I was coming back from Saint Pierre Port, I met Monsieur Le Mierre. He stopped me and wanted me to go back to the town with him. I had nearly decided to do as he wished. It was no use, I couldn't say 'No.' There was long I hadn't seen him; and he was so handsome and tall. And, and, I believe he loves me true, whatever happens! But, just as I said I'd go back with him, I thought of Blaisette, her that I hated and yet her that I pitied. And I asked him who was with her on lonely Lihou Isle. Him, he only laughed, and said she was all right; he'd be back before midnight. But there wasn't a soul in Guernsey would go to mind her, for love or money, so it was no use bothering, he said, and again he laughed. And then I was frightened. He seemed like the devil, so cruel about his poor wife. And, all of a sudden, I thought only of her, and I told him I'd go to mind her, not for love or money, but because I was so sorry, oh, so sorry, for her!"
"My brave girl! My own sweetheart!" Perrin cried, stretching out eloquent hands to the sad, pale face.
"Listen, there's more yet to tell! I don't know how I got back to Saint Pierre du Bois, it was snowing fast and yet faster; but, at last I was to L'Eree. I forgot all about everything except poor Blaisette. I threw away the roses for my wedding bonnet. I got to the beach before the tide was quite down. The sea was black. The sky was black. Just here and there was a dreadful line of white, where the waves were breaking over the rocks. And on Lihou Isle not a light was to be seen. I shivered when I thought of Blaisette in the dark, ill with small-pox of a Christmas Eve."
Perrin ground his teeth.
"Damn that brute! He's not fit for hell itself."
She drew a long breath.
"Listen, Perrin, I've not finished! I began to cross the rocks and found myself on the causeway at last, but I was deep in water. The horrible waves, like black walls, was all around me. The wind pushed me on every side. The snow was falling thicker and thicker. But at last, at last, I was to Lihou. I climbed the beach, ran across the grass, and, pushing open a door in the wall of the garden—we all know the farm well, eh, Perrin? I went up the steps to the house. I opened the door. The house was like ice. In the kitchen was a poor little bit of fire. I made it up; and then I tried to get courage to go upstairs.... Well, somehow I was in the bedroom. I had taken a candle with me. I can't tell you how she looked. It would make you wish you could kill him. She looked at me with her poor glazed eyes. Her lips were black with fever. She cried, in a voice like a thread, for water, water!"
"God in heaven! and you love this brute yet?"
She hid her face for a moment.
"Hush, I've not finished! I did my best for her, poor Blaisette. For a minute she knew me and she tried to thank me; and very soon she fell asleep."
"And he came back at midnight?"
"No, not till the middle of Christmas Day; and then he was half drunk. Since then he has hardly been near the house; but he has not left Lihou. He has been about the stables, and come into the kitchen to get his meals once or twice; and he is drinking, drinking all the time. I can see he is afraid of the small-pox, and afraid of death. And yet, I believe, I am sure, he loves me yet; only I will not speak to him nor look at him, because of her, lying upstairs all unconscious."
Perrin stared at her, aghast. Was it possible a woman could love, actually love, the devil! Bah, it seemed so!
"Look here," he cried, almost in a rude voice, "he loves you so much that he lets you run the risk of getting the small-pox! Very well! I'm decided what to do. I'll go back to tell my mother I am coming here to look after you twice a day, perhaps more, and I'll give him a piece of my mind. My mother will go to Les Casquets. I'll stop the mouths of the two parishes, so will my mother and your parents, or I'll know why. Now, go back, and I'll be off for the doctor and for food."
"Wait, just a minute, Perrin! There is something more I must say, to cast it off my mind. It is all my fault that Blaisette has the small-pox. It was me that went to the witch to Saint Pierre Port to cast a spell on my rival the day after the Grand' Querrue. I didn't tell no names, but that's why she's bad, and oh, Perrin, it's all my fault."
"Yes, I suppose it's that, in a way. But it's my belief there's another reason for her sickness. You remember she came the wrong way to church on her wedding day? Ah, we all know what that means—trouble—as sure as her name is Blaisette. But I must be off!"
In a few hours Perrin returned with a store of food and the unwilling doctor, who was obliged to go up to see the patient he dreaded so horribly, for Perrin took him by the arm and did not leave him till he had landed him in the sick room. Then the fisherman sought out Le Mierre, and the coward and scoundrel tried to hold his own. But Perrin's threats of appeal to the Royal Court awed him into a promise to give out money to pay for the expenses of his wife's illness. Corbet, himself utterly fearless of disease, frightened the drunkard into further dread of the house: and Ellenor had it all her own way. But it was of no avail. Pretty, frail Blaisette could not battle with a terrible illness, neglected at the very first; and two days after Perrin came to Lihou, she died, without a look or a sign.
There was no thought of taking her poor body across to the other island for burial in the sweet quiet churchyard of Saint Pierre du Bois. She was laid to rest in a grave dug hastily in a corner beside a dark boulder. No hymns were sung over her. Only the grey sea moaned and the wind sighed, as her rough coffin was lowered into the grave. No messenger, mounted on a black horse, bore the news of her death from house to house, up and down the two parishes. Only a poor fisherman repeated the sad tidings as he trudged, first to Colomberie Farm and then to Orvilliere, where Dominic's aunt kept house in state while her graceless nephew was away. No Messieurs of distinguished Torteval families were honoured bearers, but a good man and a bad man had carried her coffin to the dark place of burial. No weird feasting followed the unconsecrated ceremony: only Dominic took refuge from sickening terror in a drunken bout.
But Perrin stood long beside her grave: and prayed for the poor little woman so soon to be left alone in the island, henceforth to be haunted by her sad spirit.
An hour after Blaisette's burial, Ellenor fainted while she was making preparations for leaving the house. Perrin, guessing what would follow, rowed her across to the main island, as soon as she was able. His mother had returned to her home, and Jean and poor weak Mrs. Cartier prepared to nurse their child through an attack of small-pox. The doctor shook his head. It was a particularly bad case, he said, and it was doubtful if he could save Ellenor.
"So you've made up your mind to lose her, Perrin?" said Mrs. Corbet, as she and her son were at supper one spring evening.
"Yes, there is nothing else to be done. Ellenor isn't a girl to treat me like that just for a bit of fun. At first, when she was just well of the small-pox, she was very kind to me. But when I spoke of our wedding day that had been put off and asked her if she wouldn't tell me it would be soon again, she turned away and didn't say another word for a long time."
"And you left her alone, I hope?"
"Indeed, but, no! I begged and prayed of her to speak to me, till she turned round. She looked white and tired. She was crying, but she was vexed, too. She told me, quite sharp, to leave her alone. She said she wasn't going to marry nobody, and she must have been mad to promise to be my wife before. And then she said she was glad she'd had the small-pox, because it had put off the wedding."
"Perrin, my son, you are far too good for her, and far too simple! If you'd have left her then and there, it's my belief she'd have come looking after me the very next day, just to see what you'd told me. And if you'd have seemed you didn't care she'd have cared a good bit more than she does."
The fisherman shook his head.
"No, it isn't like what you think. It's like this—Ellenor only cares for one man, and that's the master of Orvilliere."
Mrs. Corbet shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, well, she must be ensorchelai herself to love him that's such a devil and has so much to do with the Prince of devils. Bah, it was only yesterday I was told of some of Le Mierre's doings! It was Judie Roussel, and she heard it from one of the maids at Orvilliere. Just you listen to me, Perrin Corbet, and see what you think of it!—Le Mierre, he wanted a bit of fun, him, and you may depend it wasn't nothing good, so he fetched some of his fine friends to go to the Vale. But they wasn't going to walk, them, no such thing! They makes up their minds they'll use the horse of Le Mierre's neighbour, Langlois. They find a good strong white one in a meadow. What do they do but all jump on his back and be off! Wait a bit! He begins to gallop and to gallop, over hedges and brambles; they couldn't stop him, and and when he gets nearly to the Vale, he throws them off his back in a fine muddy place, and then he's out of sight in a minute. And yet, would you believe it, Langlois swore the white horse had been in the meadow all the time! Of course it was the devil that was the gallopping white horse! And he must be on pretty good terms with Le Mierre to play off such a joke with him, eh, Perrin!"
"I can't say, mother, I'm sure, and, in case even he is good friends with the devil, it's all the worse for the girl that loves him."
"Bah! I've no patience with Ellenor. Le Mierre is a bad man. She knows that as well as you and me do, and yet ... she loves him. Well, well, women are poor fools. But, come, Perrin, isn't there any other girl that would do except Ellenor? There's hundreds nicer than her, and hundreds prettier—specially now."
"If she won't have me, I'll never marry. That's the end of it, mother."
Mrs. Corbet sighed as she heaped up the supper things for Perrin to wash. Such a good, kind son as he was, and to be made a fool of by a self-willed girl like Ellenor!
"It seems I haven't seen Le Mierre for a long time," she went on.
"He's been away ever since his wife's death. It was said everywhere, in the two parishes and even to Saint Pierre Port that he went off because of poor Blaisette. She came again and again to Orvilliere like a white sea-gull, crying and flapping her wings against his bedroom window. Her spirit can't rest it seems, because of his wickedness. But, now, I've been told this very day, that he's back to Guernsey: and some there are who say he's been making love to girls in Jersey."
"If only he'd had brought one back as his wife, that foolish Ellenor of yours would have stopped hankering after him!"
"I don't believe he'll marry her, because she is poor and of no family: besides ..."
"You may well say besides, poor girl! But, come, my son, I am tired, I must go to bed."
Rumour was quite correct in giving one of the reasons for Le Mierre's departure to Jersey. He told everyone how he was bothered by the spirit of Blaisette; but he did not add that abject terror of small-pox made him decide to spend some months with well-to-do relations in Jersey, which was quite exempt from the horrible disease.
It was just before Lent when he came home to find a very bleak springtime keeping back the flowers in his garden at Orvilliere. With relief, after the first night, he told his housekeeper that the spirit of Blaisette had gone, evidently for good. The woman, a devout Roman Catholic, muttered behind his back.
"She's got enough to do, praying for you in Purgatory, poor soul, if she's allowed to think of such a black heart as yours! The Blessed Angels and Saints know how it would discourage her to come back to see you as bad as ever, and it's my belief, worse!"
The tragic death of Blaisette had almost canonized her: and she, who had been in life, a pretty weak doll, was enshrined in all hearts as a martyr to her husband's brutality. So often does death enrich and enlarge our limited outlook.
It was the evening of the first Sunday in Lent. Jean Cartier, his wife, Mrs. Corbet and Perrin had been to church at Saint Pierre du Bois. It was dark as they entered the parish of Torteval, and Jean said in an anxious voice,
"I suppose Ellenor has left Les Casquets by now?"
His wife nudged him as if to say he had betrayed a secret: but it was too late. Mrs. Corbet's gentle voice asked, in great curiosity, where Ellenor was going at this time of night.
"To Les Brandons, on Pleinmont," said Jean bluntly. "We didn't like it. But as for me, I've not got the heart to refuse her nothing, since we nearly lost her with the small-pox—poor child!"
The women echoed his deep sigh: and Perrin said quickly,
"Look here! I'm off to Les Brandons too! Then I can look after her! Don't wait up for me, mother."
"Very well. But, tell me, Jean. Will Le Mierre be there? Has she met him since his return from Jersey?"
"He will be there, for certain," broke in Perrin. "And, for certain, she has not see him yet. She told me so herself. Adi, then, toute la compagnie."
He swung along and was soon out of sight. The high road of Torteval was thronged with people who, for the most part, carried lanterns. He hurried past, not speaking to a soul. Presently he had reached his home, and, turning sharply round the corner of the little garden, he found himself in a lane which ended in a cart rut and brought him out to the moorland of Pleinmont and close to the Haunted House.
The sky was thick with stars, which flashed like silver bonfires in the blackness of the night. A fresh breeze swept over the gorze bushes of the moorland and blew into yellow and red streamers the sheet of flame that rose from a huge bonfire which was built in a direct line inland from the Haunted House. The sea, below the precipitous cliffs, moaned and sighed, and, far off, in the distance, could be heard the murmur of the deep seas. Shouts of laughter and merry voices, scraps of folk song and impromptu dancing, came from the throng of people scattered over the moorland and gathered round the bonfire.
Most of the girls of the company wore masks, rough, crude affairs, which, however, effectually concealed their faces. These masked girls were to take part in a special feature of Les Brandons, and were inspected curiously by the men present who were to be chosen as partners by these faux visages.
Perrin Corbet moved quietly, almost stealthily, about amongst the people, evidently intent on finding some particular person. All at once he stopped close to the huge bonfire, and stared, with knitted brows, at Dominic Le Mierre, who swaggered in and out amongst the girls, tapping one on the cheek, chucking another under the chin, and pulling the long curls of a young creature in her teens. In the fitful and flickering light, the master of Orvilliere looked like a sea-king, so stalwart, so wicked, so magnetic. It was quite plain to Perrin Corbet that he was more than a little the worse for drink; and he watched him closely, and followed him as near as he dared without being observed.